Music editing is an integral part of the post production process, whether you’re creating videos or films for personal, academic or commercial use. The key elements you need to start editing music to match your visuals are a creative eye (and ear), obsessive attention to detail and a small helping of technical knowledge. Here are some tips to help you get started.
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Step 1: Get to grips with the basics
When you’re tailoring a pre-existing piece of music to picture, having some basic knowledge of music (for example, how to read a score and notation) is an advantage – but it’s not essential, so don’t be discouraged if it’s not part of your skill set, as there are plenty of resources available to help you.
Industry-standard editing software such as Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Pro Tools or Lightworks or is what most professionals use. For beginners, Movie Maker for Windows and iMovie for Mac – which both come pre-installed as standard – are a great starting point.
For precise editing, being familiar with SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers) time code and frame rates will help you calculate and synchronise your film with the music down to the millisecond – this musical style offers a handy introduction.
Lastly, you’ll need to consider the purpose of the music in your film – what atmosphere and feelings are you trying to evoke? How is the soundtrack helping to tell the story? Which scenes or segments need music, and what song or piece of production music will fit the mood? And this brings us to the next step: the creative process.
Step 2: Put it to the test
Before you start editing, watch the scene (or cue, as it's commonly called) a number of times. Establish the pace, structure and emotional background of the scene – understanding the story will guide you toward the right choice of music.
Next, decide where the music will begin and end, and note the time codes. This step is called a ‘spotting’ session. When working on this, keep in mind that the music and picture should complement each other, so when there’s dialogue, for example, the music should support (rather than interfere with) what the viewer sees on screen.
The next step is to browse through your music collection and find any relevant tracks. If you don’t already have a stockpile of tracks, exploring online music libraries and honing your search by musical style or mood is a great place to start.
Import the tracks into your editing software and sync them with your scene, but don’t worry if they’re not perfectly synched at first. ‘Audition’ as many tracks as needed and experiment before you make any final decisions. When you have everything in place, finalise and ‘lock’ your edit. Export your scene with audio, preview it and make sure that everything works. Perfect: you’re done.
Editing music to a scene or video can be time-consuming, but it’s also a hugely fun and creative process. The best thing you can do is try it for yourself: learn by doing, see what works and what doesn’t, and hone your skills through experience. Good luck!
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